In order for dentists to see hidden problems in your jaws and in your teeth, it is necessary to take x-rays. It goes without saying that the more dental x-rays you get, the more radiation exposure your body receives. Extensive exposure to radiation can increase your risk of getting certain types of cancer — this is why it is important to only get needed dental x-rays.
How many dental x-rays you need and how often you need them largely depends on your risk for oral disease. You can find out how often you should get dental x-rays taken here.
The purpose of this article is to simply let you know how much radiation various types of dental x-rays give you.
Radiation from Dental X-Rays
Radiation is measured in units called Sieverts, named after Rolf Sievert, a highly-regarded medical physicist known for his work on measuring radiation dosage. It is estimated that people living in the United States receive 3 milli sieverts of radiation per year from background radiation sources.
The radiation dose received from dental x-rays is measured in micro sieverts. To help you relate the following numbers to your life, the background radiation that someone living in the United States receives per day is around 9 micro sieverts.
Radiation from Routine Dental X-Rays
A regular dental x-ray, like the one being taken in the picture above, exposes the patient to roughly 10 micro sieverts of radiation. If the dentist is using an old-style dental film, then more radiation is needed and that number can climb to around 22 micro sieverts. If the dentist is using a newer-style of x-ray unit that has a rectangular end instead of the round end (as is pictured above), then the radiation dose decreases drastically to around 2 to 5 micro sieverts.
If you get a full mouth series of dental x-rays (usually 18 x-rays), then you’ll be exposed to around 180 micro sieverts of radiation.
Radiation from Panoramic Dental X-Rays
A panoramic or panorex dental x-ray exposes the patient to anywhere from 9 to 26 micro sieverts of radiation.
If you went in to your dentist for a visit and they took four routine dental x-rays along with a panoramic x-ray, you would end up getting about 50-60 micro sieverts of radiation, or the equivalent amount of radiation exposure that you get from living on this earth for 6 days.
Radiation from a Lateral Cephalometric Dental X-Ray
Many adolescents get lateral cephalometric (or lateral ceph) x-rays when they get braces. A lateral cephalometric x-ray exposes the patient to around 5 micro sieverts of radiation, or the equivalent of 1/2 day of background radiation exposure.
Radiation from a Cone Beam CT Dental X-Ray
Cone beam CT scans can be used to visualize the jaw bones in three dimensions. This aids dentists in diagnosing fractures and oral pathology and can also aid in evaluating patients to receive dental implants.
Depending on the brand of the cone beam CT unit, they emit anywhere from 20 to 600 micro sieverts of radiation, or the equivalent of 3 to 75 days of background radiation.
Questions about Radiation from Dental X-Rays?
For the record, I got the numbers above from the textbook Oral Radiology by White.
Do you have any questions, comments, or concerns about the amount of radiation that you get from dental x-rays? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments section below.